Spicy Korean Soup on a Cold Winter’s Night? (aka the “Riff on Sundubu” Post)

Why should big, bold, beautiful flavors be complicated? The answer is — they don’t have to be. In this simple soup recipe, inspired by sundubu jjigae, a traditional spicy Korean soup made with tofu and kimchi, a few authentic ingredients do the heavy lifting.

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The key to this recipe, which comes together quickly, is to prep all vegetables in advance of cooking. Additionally, homemade stock adds complexity and deliciousness. Choice of add-ins means that this soup can be vegetarian — or not. We used leftover braised leg of lamb and it was absolutely delicious.

Spicy Korean Soup (aka Sundubu)
Serves 4

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 Serrano chili pepper, minced
1 medium onion, sliced
4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 T anchovy paste
6 c. homemade stock (chicken, pork or veg.)
2 T Korean hot pepper paste (also known as kochujang or gochujang)
8 oz kale, chiffonaded
Salt and pepper to taste (alternatively, soy sauce and pepper)

Suggested add-ins: 
Soft or silken tofu, cubed
Kimchee (to taste)
Shredded chicken, pork, or leftover braised leg of lamb — at room temp
Glass noodles (also known as cellophane noodles or bean thread noodles)

Optional toppings: 
Thinly sliced Serrano peppers
Sliced scallions
Toasted sesame seeds
Red pepper flakes

Directions: Sauté garlic, serrano pepper and onion in 1-2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed stock pot for 2-3 minutes, until fragrant; add anchovy paste and stir until combined. Add mushrooms and zucchini and cook until beginning to soften, approx. 5-7 minutes. Add stock, cover and and bring soup to a simmer; stir in Korean hot pepper paste until combined and add kale. Cover and simmer until kale is wilted, approx. 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, prep soup bowls with add-ins of choice. Once soup is ready, ladle soup into bowls and add toppings (optional). Enjoy!

What a Year! (aka the “#2015BestNine on Instagram” Post)

Food & wine. NYC design. Scenic views (Rocky Mountains). Brooklyn culture. Healthy eats. One epic lunch (Guadeloupe, French West Indies). More scenic views (San Francisco). A fabulous negroni. Scenes from last night (Nashville edition). 

2015 marks the first complete calendar year that I’ve been on Instagram, and while at times I’m sure that my Instagram posts feel disjointed, there is always the through line of: good food, epic travel, inspired moments and joie de vivre — sort of like The BLD Project, which is in growth mode.

#2015BestNine on Instagram
#2015BestNine on Instagram @elindhomie

I say: Bring on 2016! I have a feeling it’s going to be a great one.

Pickled Carrots, Onion, Jalapeño (aka the “Homage to Humble Taqueria Carrots” Post)

Those spicy carrots. As ubiquitous as fresh chopped cilantro, lime wedges, and an assortment of salsas at any hole-in-the-wall taqueria in Southern California worthy of its Mexican stripes. 

Approaching 10 years of living in NYC, and spicy, pickled taqueria-style carrots are one of the food memories that haunts this California expat yet, go figure.

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I’ve dabbled with pickling jalapeños, pickling carrots and the sum of these parts before. I highly recommend Momofuku’s pickled carrots — the brine has a sweetness thanks to rice vinegar and sugar, and just about anything else you have on hand can go into it, in addition to carrots.

This time, though, I was on a hunt for auténtico. When I discovered a post on Tasting Table for “Taqueria-Style Pickled Carrots,” adapted from Kevin West, a Los Angeles-based blogger and author of “Saving the Season: A Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving” — I knew I was on the right track.

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I stayed mostly true to the recipe, skipping the sterilization step as these carrots will live in the fridge for the duration of their short life (they’re already quickly disappearing) and also amping up the spice quotient. I used a mishmash of carrots that we had in the fridge and rough-chopped them to approximately the same size. I also used a white onion.

The brilliance of West’s technique lies in toasting the cumin seeds and crushing the peppercorns, two simple steps that really open up the spices and cause them to bloom, so to speak, in the brine.

Here’s the recipe, simplified and slightly modified:

Taqueria-Style Pickled Carrots
(Adapted from Kevin West via TastingTable)
Makes 2 quarts

2 lb. (approx. ) raw carrots, use whatever you have on hand, cut into chunks
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
4 to 6 jalapeños, sliced thinly
8 cloves garlic

2 c. water
2 c. white vinegar
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. peppercorns, lightly crushed (mortar with pestle)
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. cumin seeds

1) Toast cumin seeds in a small skillet until lightly browned and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

2) Combine water, vinegar, kosher salt, oregano and peppercorns in a saucepan; bring to a boil at high heat. Add onion and jalapeño and turn off heat.

3) Separately, bring salted water to boil, add carrots and cook until al dente, about 3 minutes. Drain in colander and add to onion and jalapeño in brine; return to a boil and then turn off the heat.

4) Divide cumin seeds and garlic cloves between empty jars. With a slotted spoon, divide carrots, onion, jalapeño between jars. Top off with brine and let cool to room temp before fastening lids and storing in the fridge.

**Pickled carrots will be ready to eat in 24 hours and will take on greater intensity the longer they are in the brine — but good luck keeping them around!**

Now, bring on the tacos… 

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Roberta’s x Humboldt & Jackson?! Yes, Please! (aka the “Takeover Par-tay” Post)

It’s safe to say that at this point in its tenure, Bushwick pioneer Roberta’s is a New York City institution. (If a Michelin star for Blanca, pizza approaching perfection and a high-stakes legal battle among owners doesn’t make a New York City institution, I’m not sure what does.)

So there was no way I was going to miss Roberta’s “kitchen takeover” at Humboldt & Jackson, which is, literally, the closest food and drink establishment to home. Part wine bar, part bar-bar, part seasonal menu; frequent host to trivia nights, live music, pop-up food and/or seasonal events, Humboldt & Jackson has made itself right at home in the neighborhood in the t-minus two years that it has been open.

Top billing on the menu was Roberta’s “square slice” pizza — an homage to Detroit’s hyper-local pizza style (a la Buddy’s Pizza) that’s best described by what it’s not: It’s not thin crust, not deep dish, square? yes, but not Sicilian (although billed as such, this is still questionable) and definitely not Chicago style. Roberta’s served up its famous pizzas (“The Bee Sting,” “Millennium Falco,” etc.) on an foccicia-like crust.

But the scene stealer? The stracciatella, a fresh, soft-stretched, languid heap of cheese goodness, which was served with toasted sourdough bread. Said bread’s toasty porousness was the perfect structure for every bite. (No photos worthy of posting, but this Washington Post recipe is calling my name.)

If you thought buratta was the pinnacle of Mozzarella’s excellence, think again, my friend. And then seek out stracciatella. One more reason why Roberta’s rocks — stracciatella is featured on its lunch and dinner menus on the regular.

For more on Buddy’s Pizza, cue up this Zagat video to 4:40min — but the whole thing is a solid watch: 

 

Fennel, Apple, Mushrooms, Raisins, Arugula (aka the “Pretty Near Perfect Fall Salad” post)

Three rules I live by: 1.) Frequent trips to the greenmarket. 2.) Keep your kitchen basics stocked. 3.) Let whatever you have on hand inspire your cooking.

Rule no. 1 sets you up for success: If you always have some variation of locally grown, seasonal produce on hand, you’ve got a great basis for inspiration.

Rule no. 2 helps with time management: You won’t have to drop everything to run to the store for one or two items, wasting 30 minutes or more.

Rule no. 3 is easy — when you follow no. 1 and no. 2. Hence this gorgeous salad, which I pulled together based on what I had on hand.

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The Pretty Near Perfect Fall Salad
Serves 2

1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced, some fronds reserved
1 apple, sliced
4 cloves garlic, whole
1/2 c. golden raisins

8 oz. button mushrooms (or baby bellas), thinly sliced
2 sprigs rosemary
Sherry vinegar

Approx. 8 oz. arugula or greens of your choice
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), white balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Add-ons: Protein of your choice — we have wild caught single serve portions of Mahi Mahi from Costco in our freezer. Slivered almonds or cheese would also be delicious additions in the absence of fish. Also, I threw in some leftover pickled onion that I had in the fridge.

Directions: Toss the fennel, apple and garlic cloves in EVOO, salt and pepper, and roast at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, turning once or twice, until lightly browned. Add the raisins for the last 5 minutes. Separate the fennel and raisins; set aside. Chop the roasted apple slices and slice the garlic thinly; reserve.

Separately, heat 1T EVOO and 1T butter (optional — but recommended) in a large saute pan. Add mushrooms and rosemary and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. Add the reserved apple and garlic. Once the mushrooms are cooked and the liquid has evaporated, add 1T sherry vinegar around the edge of the pan (red wine vinegar or even apple cider vinegar would also work) and stir to incorporate. Continue cooking another five minutes or so, until all of the liquid has evaporated.

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Toss greens in drizzle of EVOO and white balsamic vinegar (regular balsamic vinegar would work as well — white balsamic has a lighter, lightly sweet taste). Salt and pepper lightly.

To plate: Divide salad onto two plates and top with some of the reserved fennel fronds — just a few pieces here and there. Spoon mushroom mixture over salad and gently mix. Add a few more fennel fronds if desired. Top with roasted fennel and raisins.

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Bon Appetit!

The Brilliance of Good Menu Art (aka the “Always Delightful Brunching at Isa” post)

Nothing sets the tone of a meal like what’s placed on the table upon seating — the humble menu.

The table setting, the restaurant decor, the waitstaff, the restaurant’s general ambiance — they’re clues to the dining experience to which the menu is the key. Menu in hand, all of the pieces fall into place. Menus tell a restaurant’s story on paper, an introduction to the chapters that will be devoured on the plates that are yet to come.

There are menus — and then there is menu art. Which brings me to Isa, a laid back, rustic-chic restaurant appropriately located in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, serving up fresh, loosely “Mediterranean” fare for which the wood burning oven is the through line.

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November 2015 menus at Isa in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Elegant, refined, classy — Isa’s menus are not. But they are by no means an afterthought (one of the worst things a restaurant can do is not give proper consideration to the design of their menu, IMHO). A riotous mashup of color, collage, equal parts whimsy and cheeky, Isa’s menus always elicit a smile (and perhaps an arched eyebrow). Their menus change often and live on for perpetuity on their Tumblr blog. Without a doubt, their current cocktail menu, pictured above right, is one of my all-time favorites. YES, I want whatever he’s having! Let’s hang out and then go catch a wave! Oh, right … it’s November in New York.

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Brunch at Isa, clockwise from top: Breakfast pizza, Clawhammer Farms bacon, wood-fired chicken, wood-oven baked eggs.

The undisputed star of Isa’s brunch menu is their breakfast pizza, which is topped with eggs, Fontina cheese, coppa and a caper herb vinaigrette. Someone at the table has to get it and inevitably shares with the table whatever portion they’re incapable of finishing. And while the brunch menu does feature variations of egg dishes, breakfast sandwiches and other brunch staples, the offerings are overall thoughtful, original, clever and delicious — four adjectives you could also use to describe Isa’s menus. Delicious? A paper menu?

I’m not advising you to eat the menu — only to devour with your eyes.